Skip to main content

Full text of "Parochial Mission Women : a paper read at the Church Congress, Manchester, October 15th, 1863"

See other formats





OCTOBER loTH, 1863, 



Printer and Publisher in Ordinary to Her Majenty, 



Price Sixpence. 

OCT. 15Tn, 1863. 




The subject which I have undertaken to bring before the 
consideration of the Meeting has ah-eady been introduced to the 
notice of the Church Congress. A paper was read on the 
Institution of Parochial Mission Women, by the Pev. Wellington 
Furse, at the meeting of 1862, which stated the origin, consti- 
tution, and aim of the society concisely yet fully, and enforced 
with an eloquence which I should endeavour in vain to emulate, 
the arguments in favour of its further development. I hope that 
the actual work, as well as the origin of the Institution, has 
become well known by the simple and deeply interesting nar- 
rative published by the Hon. Mrs. Talbot, one of the Lady- 
managers; copies of the second edition of which may be had 
of Messrs. Hale and Poworth, Cross-street.* It would, indeed, 
be sufficient to refer to that publication and to Mr. Purse's 
paper, without further observation on my own part, were it not 
for the recent date of the undertaking, and the increased confi- 
dence in its success which has been derived from the experience 

* Rivingtons, Waterloo Place, London. 

of another year. It has now acquired a recognised position as 
an auxiliary in parochial work, by the place assigned to it in the 
Bishop of London's great scheme for supplying the spiritual 
wants of the metropolis and its suburbs. Many here present 
must recollect the appearance of a little work called " The 
Missing Link," under which quaint title a narrative was given 
of the ready access obtained to the homes and hearts of the poor, 
by the employment of women selected from their own rank of 
life. These agents were called Bible-women, and the history 
of their work, in stimulating the indolent to exertion, in reclaim- 
ino- the vicious, in teaching by example the advantages of a 
clean, well-ordered home, and, yet more, in leading those whom 
they visited to a longing after better things, to a desire to become 
acquainted with the Word of Life, could not fail to interest 
every reader. The chain of Christian brotherhood seemed to 
have snapped like the electric cable in some of its submerged 
links. The missing link was to be found and riveted. 

It is, however, obvious to all who have a firm faith in the 
Divine mission of the Church, that the permanence and ultimate 
success of any scheme for diffusing a knowledge of Christian 
truth must depend mainly on its being made to harmonise with 
the agencies already engaged in carrying on the Church's work. 
It is well if we have been shown a link that will bind the rich 
to their poorest brethren, but the whole chain must be brought 
home and secured to the firm ground, the foundation of the 
Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief 
corner-stone. This was felt by one who had perused the work. 
The thoughts that God put into her heart were communicated 
to the Incumbent of a London district. The seed had fallen in 
good ground, and bore fruit. In the early part of 1860, four 
ladies, members of our Church, endeavoured to avail themselves 
of the agency of Mission-women, by means of a society, of which 
they became the managers. The society was constituted on the 
following principles : — 

1. That the Mission should be part of and be subordinate to 
the Parochial System of our Church. 

2. That the Mission-woman (being of course a member of 
the Church of England) should be selected by the Incumbent of 
the parish from amongst the poor ; and that her work should be 
superintended not only by the Incumbent, but by a lady of 
education, to be also named by him. 

3. That no direct relief in the shape of alms should be given, 
but that the Mission should be the extension of Christian civili- 
sation (the only true civilisation) among the poor — that they 
should be instructed and encouraged in habits of Christian love 
and courtesy, in self-discipline, and self-support. 

I will very briefly touch upon each of the above heads. 

First, as forming part of the parochial system, a Mission is 
established only upon the application of the Incumbent. He 
selects the Mission-woman and the Lady Superintendent. The 
Mission-woman is not a Scripture reader, nor a teacher of reli- 
gious doctrines, but through her agency, and that of the Lady 
Superintendent, the pastor is informed of the spiritual neces- 
sities of all who are brought within the sphere of their influ- 
ence. They are instructed to refer to him alone in all such 
cases. The arrangement may be terminated by a month's 
notice on either side, viz., by the Lady-managers of the society, 
or by the Incumbent ; so that the possibility of collision with 
the Incumbent, or interference with his office, is effectually 

Secondly, the Mission-woman is taken from the ranks of the 
poor. I cannot here do better than repeat Mr. Furse's citation 
from Mr. Talbot's work : " She goes among them a living 
witness that one of themselves may be something better and 
happier than they are." 

The object in view would be frustrated if the Mission-woman 
were raised by the society above her original position. The 
salary, therefore, is purposely kept very low, from 8s. to 14s. a 

week, according to the circumstances of the work, and the time 
that it requires. She is one whose habits of cleanliness, 
economy, order, and sincere piety are attainable, through God's 
blessing, by all of her own class. Of this she is to be the living 
witness, subduing them to her own nature through the sym- 
pathy of affection, not by any exhibition of herself as a model or 
a teacher. Her work is done quietly and simply, often as a 
portion of her daily duties. No attempt has been made to define 
it. She enters one house, and finds its inmates prostrate with 
fever, in the midst of dirt and squalor. She will clean the room, 
set things to rights, watch, if necessary, through the night. In 
another place she encounters drunkenness, and all its miserable 
consequences ; the clothes, the furniture pawned, even down to 
the bed and bed-clothing. She will take a favourable moment 
for letting the wretched inmates know with how little self-denial 
they may be raised from such misery to comfort. To re-kindle 
the feeling of hope, which becomes all but quenched in the 
miseries of squalid poverty, is her constant aim. In other cases 
she will suggest the sending of children, hitherto wholly 
neglected, to school. In all, she will strive to bring those whom 
she visits to their pastor, and through him to the great Shepherd 
of the flock. She brings specially before his notice those little 
ones whom their Saviour is ever ready to embrace ; and the 
testimony of the clergy as to the increased number of infants 
brought to them for Holy Baptism, through the agency of the 
Mission-woman, is uniform and striking. 

Those who have had any experience of the poor will know how 
much more effective such an agency must be than any visits, 
however kindly meant or kindly conducted, by ladies or gentle- 
men, or even by the Clergy themselves. With reference to the 
social character of the degraded, the Clergyman must be ignorant 
of much that is known to the Mission-woman, who has had her- 
self to struggle with poverty. His friendly remonstrances, if 
extended beyond spiritual matters, are frequently rejected as 

interference. I have heard of the poor saying, with regard to 
the visits of an exemplary clergyman, that it seemed as if the 
policeman were looking them up. Neither can the clergyman's 
wife, or any lady, thoroughly master all the besetting tempta- 
tions of the poor to improvidence and consequent disorder. 
There is always a risk, also, when the visits of the wealthy are 
expected or frequent, of a false or hypocritical display either of 
poverty or good order, as may be thought most expedient, at the 
time of the visit. The Mission-woman drops in as a neighbour 
and a friend. 

Mr. Furse has referred in heart-stirring language to a higher 
point — the blessing to the Mission-women themselves in having 
such an opening given them to a devoted life. I will only, 
therefore, state the fact that in many cases the duty has been 
accepted with thankfulness by widows, anxious to serve their 
Heavenly Master, as He was served of old by those women who 
followed His steps on earth. In others, those who have them- 
selves home duties to perform, have nevertheless found or made 
time for executing the work of the mission. 

Thirdly. The third principle, namely, abstinence from alms- 
giving, forms a special mark of distinction between the work 
conducted by the Parochial Mission Women's Society and that 
carried on by district visiting. I purposely abstain from con- 
trasting any one branch of parochial work with another. Dis- 
trict visiting may be all-important with reference to many 
objects of its own, but the Mission-woman's efforts would be at 
once paralysed if there were any mistake as to the object of her 
visits, any expectation of her assisting the poor to do that which 
we all, both rich and poor, are alike too ready to do, namely, 
shift their burthens upon the shoulders of others. She is to 
teach them how they can best diminish the burthen by removing 
all the self-imposed weights of sensuality or folly ; how they can 
most aptly economise and apply such strength as they possess ; 
and lastly, with the minister's help, how they can most cheerfully 


bear that which must ever remain to be borne, when all is done, 
as being the duty assigned by no hard taskmaster, but by One 
who said of old by His prophet, " As thy days so shall thy 
strength be." 

Having thus stated the objects and principles of the society, j 
will now shortly speak of its constitution and general toorking, 
and then of its present position. 

The Lady-managers * (now five in number) have the general 
control of the undertaking and its funds. These funds are, 
however, carried to the Treasurer's account at the bank. To the 
Lady-managers applications are made by the Clergyman for the 
establishment of a Mission in his parish. 

The Clergyman then appoints a Mission-woman and a Lady 
Superintendent, to be approved of by the Managers. It is not 
thought desirable, for many reasons which I need not enter into, 
that the clergyman's wife should act as lady superintendent. I 
have spoken of 07ie Mission-woman — in some cases, if the funds 
will permit, two have been appointed, and of course any number 
may be so employed. A room is provided (if there be not 
already a school-room or some other suitable place) for weekly 
meetings of women who have been visited by the Mission- women, 
as they may be able to attend. 

The Managers supply the Lady Superintendent with funds for 
the purchase of materials for clothing and bedding. These are 
purchased at wholesale prices, to be again distributed at cost 
price, to women willing to buy and work them up. The mate- 
rials are kept at the Mission rooms, where the weekly meeting is 
held, and the poor women attend with the Mission-woman and 
work them up. They are not allowed to remove any materials 
to their own home till the whole cost price is paid ; but, if they 

* The Hon. Mrs. J. C. Talbot ; The Lady Laura Palmer ; The Hon. 
Cecily Stuart Wortley (Hon. Sec.) ; Lady Wood ; Miss Laura Oldfield 
(Hon. Sec.) Any further information may be obtained fi-om the Treasurer, 
The Hon. W. C. Spring Rice, 165, New Bond Street, W. 

like, may pay for and remove them at once, instead of working 
on them at the meeting's. 

The Lady Superintendent presides at the meetings, and con- 
verses with and reads to the women whilst they are at work. 
The Clergyman attends before the close of the meeting, and the 
women are dismissed with prayer and his blessing, The reading 
by the Lady Superintendent is not necessarily of a religious cha- 
racter, but varies according to the wishes of the clergyman. 

The Mission-woman in her visits collects the payments for 
clothing and bedding, and also for Bibles and Prayer books, 
which are provided at the cost price of the Society for the Pro- 
motion of Christian Knowledge. 

Accounts are made out weekly, according to very minute and 
accurate printed forms, of all payments made by the poor, and 
are transmitted regularly by the Lady Superintendent to the Lady- 
managers. The expense of a Mission is between £30 and £40. 
In some instances the whole or one-half has been supplied by 
the liberality of an individual. The Incumbent is expected to 
raise something towards the expense, though this is not made a 
condition of the establishment of the Mission when the parish is 
a very poor one. 

These weekly returns also contain a return one of the number of 
visits paid daily by the Mission-women, and the numbers present 
at the weekly meetings, in order that the Managers may be able 
to form some judgment of the efficiency of the Mission. From 
100 to 150 visits can be made in the week, though this number 
is sometimes exceeded. The Lady-managers from time to time, 
and without any previous notice, themselves visit the work 

Once or twice a year a parochial tea party is given to the 
women who attend the weekly meetings, at which the Lady 
Superintendent and one or more of the Lady-managers attend. 

A similar meeting takes place of the whole body of Mission- 


There are occasional meetings also of the Lady-managers 
with the Lady Superintendents of all the Missions, and with such 
of the clergy as may be able to attend. 

These various meetings tend materially to the cheerful and 
harmonious working of the whole scheme. It is, indeed, essen- 
tial to its distinctive Christian character that the Mission-woman 
herself should be from time to time refreshed in spirit, and 
upheld in her work as a labour of love. The danger against 
which it is perhaps most necessary to guard her, is that of a too 
business-like routine discharge of secular duty. She may, her- 
self, sink into a mere collector of pence, or maid-of-all-work, and 
cease to labour as a loving sister of mercy. The intercourse 
with the Lady Superintendent and the Clergyman should (as it is 
believed it does) counteract this tendency. 

This is the simple machinery of the society, to which, however, 
has been made, since Mr. Furse's paper was read, one important 
addition, viz., a Committee of Reference, consisting of eight gen- 
tlemen, whose names would inspire confidence in any assembly 
of Churchmen. They are to meet annually for the purpose of 
examining and auditing all the accounts. At such meetings a 
statement of the whole working of the society is laid before them 
by the Lady-managers ; and their suggestions and advice are 
asked as to any fresh regulations for giving steadiness and 
stability to the work. 

The Lady-managers have also the privilege of convoking a 
meeting of this committee, if necessary, owing to any difficulty 
or embarrassment in the work. Two of the Committee of 
Reference act specially as auditors, and audit the whole accounts 
yearly. I cannot here insist too strongly on Ihe advantage of 
this business element in the transactions of the society. Many 
useful works in the Church of Christ have been greatly hindered 
by carelessness in finance. We have the great example of St. 
Paul, who would not even send Titus alone with pecuniary aid 
to the Corinthians : " Considering this, that no one should blame 


us in the abundance which is administered by us, providing for 
things, honest not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the 
sight of man." 2 Cor. viii. 20. 

It is intended to add, when required, trained Nurses to the 
Mission establishment. It has been found that instruction in 
nursing is deeply needed. The nurse will be a person trained 
under the superintendence of Miss Jones, at King's College 
Hospital, for a year, or six months at least, and her duty will be 
not merely to nurse but to teach the best method of nursing. 
She, of course, will be placed under the same control as the 

Such is the constitution and working of the society, and now 
one word only on its present position. 

When Mr. Furse read his paper last year, the society had 
established 28 Missions. In the report for June in the present 
year, they are mentioned by name, and amount to 46. They now 
amount to 51,* and fresh applications are continually received. 

The missions are principally in the metropolis ^and its neigh- 
bourhood, but others have also been established at Plymouth,! 
Reading, Plumstead, and Chatham. The society has received 
the express sanction of his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, 
the Bishop of London, and Bishop of "Winchester, in whose 
dioceses principally the work is carried on. The Bishop of 
London himself preached the first sermon, when a collection was 
made in support of the institution, and has placed the " Parochial 
Mission Women " on the list of Christian works which he is 
desirous of carrying into effect by means of the large fund pro- 
posed to be raised in his diocese. 

These details, few as they are, will show you that the work is 
appreciated by the clergy and is in full vigour. During the year 

* Increased since this paper was read to 71. April, 1864. 

t An Exeter Diocesan Crancb now exists under the management of Lady 
Louisa Fortescue and Mrs. Pole Carew, in connexion with the Pai'ent Society, 
"wliicli supports several IMissions in Plymouth. 


to which the last report extends, the 46 Missions received from 
the poor £1,217 12s. ^d. in payment for clothing, bedding, 
Bibles, and Prayer-books. Of this sum, sometimes £1 a-week 
has been received in a single Mission in copper, 6s. or 8s. being 
in farthings ; these payments increase as the poor rise in position. 
These figures alone serve to show that the work is appreciated 
by the poor, and in no case have these contributions caused any 
diminution of the deposits in provident funds, or other saving 
deposits, which have, in many instances, as might be expected, 
simultaneously increased. 

I have copies of the last Report, which I shall be happy to 
distribute ; and reference may be made to any of the clergy 
therein named, as to the working of the mission in his parish. 
Instances could be given, if time would allow it, which might 
interest those present, of the effects of the work as far as the 
present short experience has developed them. Mrs. Talbot's 
excellent book contains many such details. As an example of 
its diifusive, leavening character, I may mention the case of a 
poor woman who was lately heard saying to another at one of 
the weekly meetings, " I am sure I hope you will find this 
answer to you as it has to me : why, with the bits of furniture 
I have bought by degrees, I can now hire a room for 2s. 6d. a 
week instead of 4s. 6d. a week." The woman addressed had but 
just joined the meeting, and was in a most squalid state of 
poverty. Not unfrequently the women have required instruc- 
tion in the first use of the needle. It has been even noticed 
that a wonderful change takes place not only in the dress but in 
the very countenance of the poor women attending the meetings. 
The sullen, depressed, all but desponding scowl, is sure to 
brighten by degrees into the cheerful look of a mind more ele- 
vated and at ease. It may be said women only are dealt with, 
but how does this affect the men ? Those who know the influence 
on the working man's character for good or evil of the state of 
his house and household — of a tidy, quiet, well ordered, well 


governed home, or of one that is the reverse, will not ask any 
question on that point. 

The Congress has now before it a statement of the objects, 
constitution, and progress of the Parochial Mission Women's 
Society. I may add that the central board of Lady-managers 
is ready to receive subscriptions either for the general work or 
for specified missions, and ready also to afford assistance by its 
advice and experience to all who may be desirous of undertaking 
a similar work. 

If the principle be in itself good, the metliod of working has 
the advantage of great simplicity. By fitting in to parochial 
work it is capable of adaptation to the whole of our population. 
Though conceived originally as infusing the leaven of Christi- 
anity Into the dense masses of populous towns as yet scarcely 
touched by its influence, yet the help of the Mission-women In 
teaching habits of domestic order, cleanliness, and economy, 
would be everywhere of great service. There are many points 
also in which the Mission-women might be available to clergymen, 
especially to the younger clergy intrusted with the charge of 
populous rural districts, by keeping them well Informed of the 
various habits and special wants, spiritual as well as temporal, 
of the poorer members of their flock. 

Take a slng-le illustration : the almost incredible amount of 
low and debasing superstitions imbedded In the minds of the 
rural population as firmly as they were in the middle ages. 
Some lamentable instances of this have lately occurred ; such as 
the drowning, not a month ago, in Essex, of a wretched deaf and 
dumb foreigner, eighty-six years of age, as a wizard. In the 
presence of seventy or eighty villagers, none of whom lifted arm 
or even voice to save him. 

But as the institution of Parochial Mission-women ^^s in to the 
existing working of our parishes, so, also. It supersedes nothing. 
It fills permanently a gap, which has hitherto been only bridged 
over, it may be, from time to time, on pressing emergency, in 


this or that parish, by the personal benevolence of iudividuala 
possessing a rare capacity for attracting sympathy and confidence. 

I cannot, indeed, be supposed to overlook the remarkable 
manner in which the tie of Christian brotherhood must have been 
strengthened, during the course of the last eventful year in the 
great manufacturing districts, in the very heart of which we are 
assembled. I see around me those whose ready help and bro- 
therly and sisterly compassion must have won their way to the 
hearts of the noble suffering classes of Lancashire. Those 
helpers, too, must have been greatly touched, yes, and must 
have been themselves ennobled and purified, by witnessing the 
manner in which a trial unexampled in our time, if not in history, 
has been borne ; with what meek and manly resignation to the 
Divine will. 

But I shall have failed to convey adequately the scope of the 
Mission-woman's work, if I have not made it appear that her 
labour of love is not confined, nor even pi'incipally directed, to 
ministrations among the honest, hard-working, industrious 
classes. Its object is rather to stir up the indolent and apathetic, 
to open the eyes of the improvident, to check the downward path 
of the sensual, to cheer the desponding, by pointing out to them 
not merely the Mission-woman's own example, but the example 
of others amongst whom she has laboured, and thus convincing 
all that in this life, and as regards things temporal, there is no 
impassable gulph between happiness and misery. Surely this 
will lighten the labour of him, who, armed with a higher com- 
mission, shall be called upon to warn them of the awful moment 
when evil and misery will be eternally separated from goodness 
and bliss, and to exhort them, even at the eleventh hour, to 
become fellow-labourers in his Master's vineyard. 

I believe the work has commended itself to our Bishops, our 
Clergy, and to the lay-supporters of the society, no less than to 
our poorer brethren, by its simplicity and its appropriateness. 
In a beautiful sermon of one who has been lately added to the 


distinguished Clergy of the North, I find a passage particularly 
applicable to this labour of love ; — " The condition of success in 
heavenly things is still, as it has ever been, not ingenuity, but 
devotion ; not hurry, but patience ; not self-confidence or pre- 
sumption, but earnest prayer and invincible faith." — Vaughan's 
Lessons of Life and Godliness, Sermon XIIT. 

Emilt FAiTnFtT.L, I'rinlcr and Vublisher in Onlinary to Her Majesty, Victoria Press, 83a, Farringdon 
Street, and 11, Trinces Street, IIani)\er Square,